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Fairmont girls basketball returns stellar nucleus

HOOPSTERS RETURN — Members of the Fairmont Cardinal girls basketball team tipping off the season by playing host to Windom Area on Tuesday night at Cardinal Gym in Fairmont include, front row (l-r): Carys Gudahl and Rubi Reyes. Middle row: Elayna Anderson, Ava Terfehr, Abi Peyman, Kennedy Becker and Tiffany Lowry. Back row: Hope Klanderud, Emelia Klanderud, Norah Traetow, Nevaeh Rahm, Brylee Miller and Grace Pendergast. Not pictured: Ellie Ortega. (Photo by Greg Abel)

FAIRMONT — Fairmont head girls basketball coach Sara Junkermeier knows exactly how difficult it is to earn victories within the confines of the Big South Conference.

Junkermeier’s Cardinals reached the Section 3AA, South Sub-Section championship game last season, eventually falling to Luverne to finish with a 15-11 mark.

“We nearly made it to the sectional finals, but our record did not reflect how well we actually played throughout the season,” said Junkermeier, who enters her seventh year at Fairmont’s varsity helm. “There are a lot of quality teams in both our conference and section, so there are no easy nights.”

Junkermeier’s hardwood analysis proved as accurate as a Brylee Miller runner in the lane.

Big South Conference rivals St. Peter, Marshall and Luverne — who generated a total of 68 wins during the 2022-23 campaign — combined to deal four losses to Fairmont last winter. Ironically, Marshall avenged a loss to St. Peter in the conference championship clash by defeating the Saints for the Section 2AAA crown and a state bid.

“Hopefully we can improve our number of wins this season, especially since we return both our top two scorers and top two rebounders from a year ago,” said Junkermeier.

Miller, a 5-foot-11 sophomore 5-spot hybrid netter, and 5-10 senior post player Nevaeh Rahm — along with 5-9 senior wing Grace Pendergast — return to the Cardinals’ starting lineup after making major statistical contributions last season.

Miller made her varsity debut a memorable one by meriting Sentinel All-Area co-player of the year accolades after topping Fairmont with a 14.7-point scoring clip, 73 assists and 57 steals to complement a second-best team average of 5.9 rebounds per outing.

The first-team all-Big South Conference choice also eclipsed the Cardinal program’s single-game scoring mark by tossing in 36 points in a win over Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunburg in the Windom Holiday Classic on Dec. 27.

“Brylee really made quite an impact for us as a freshman, and got even better as the season progressed,” said Junkermeier. “She’s so versatile that she’ll actually be our backup player in the low post this season.”

Rahm, who also earned All-Area and all-Big South accolades last winter, led Fairmont in rebounding (6.1 rpg) and finished No. 2 in scoring (10.6 ppg) to go with distributing 50 assists and pocketing 32 steals.

Pendergast also garnered All-Area and all-conference honors by producing 9.8 points per outing, paced by draining 44 3-pointers a year ago. Pendergast also proved a skilled multi-tasker by grabbing 91 rebounds, doling out 63 assists and pocketing 36 steals.

Senior guard Hope Klanderud and senior guard Ava Terfehr also return after playing significant minutes last winter, along with junior wing Ellie Ortega.

“Last season we (coaching staff) were trying to figure out where all the pieces to the puzzle fit. This season we’ll be defining the roles for the ones back and honing their strengths,” said Junkermeier. “After battling through health issues last season, Ava is back in true basketball mode and will have a bigger role this season.

“Hope had a varsity role last year, but her minutes and contributions should increase now.”

The guard trio of Abi Peyman, Rubi Reyes and Elayna Anderson — along with post player Tiffany Lowry — will round out the seniors on the roster.

Junior forwards Kennedy Becker and Norah Traetow, junior guard Carys Gudahl and freshman Emelia Klanderud will complete Fairmont’s opening-day varsity roster.

“Now we need to work hard in practice and see how much better we can be every day,” said Junkermeier.

Terry Ehlert will handle the program’s B-squad coaching duties, Aaron Lowry will do likewise at the C-squad level, while Sara Gudahl returns as the varsity assistant coach.

Fairmont tips off the season by playing host to Windom Area at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 28, at Cardinal Gym in Fairmont.

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